Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012 Outlook for Canada’s Seals

Despite the efforts of Prime Minister Steven Harper and his legal team, the European Union ban on the import of Canadian seal products remains in place. The door to the south has been closed for decades with the United States in 1972, and Mexico shortly thereafter, prohibiting the import and export of marine mammal products.   
Canada’s federal Fisheries Department reports that almost 90% of Canada’s seal exports are destined for Russia, but just last week Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Russian Federation announced that seal products could no longer be imported from Canada. According to Vladimir Putin, the seal hunt “should have been stopped years ago”.
There were 205,000 harp seals killed in 2008, but only 68,000 in 2010. In 2011 the number plummeted to 38,000; a mere 10% of the allowable slaughter. With the Russian Federation ban in place, significantly fewer harp seals will be clubbed to death in 2012.

Harp Seal with Baby

Early in 2011, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, announced China was going to import Canadian seal products, but the deal never materialized. Rebecca Aldworth, the Canadian director of Humane Society International said, “What has happened, in my opinion, is the deliberate misleading of the Canadian public and the sealing community about the potential for a seal meat market in China.”
More money will be spent fighting the EU ban and it is likely funds will be allocated to fight the Russian ban as well, but this effort appears to be largely a regional politics game rather than a responsible use of taxpayers’ money. The seal hunt is no longer financially viable and although boats will venture out in 2012, their numbers will be few. This all sounds very positive for the harp seals, but unfortunately other threats remain, especially for the grey seals.
A proposal is being considered to cull 140,000 grey seals on Sable Island. Some people believe the seal cull will aid in the recovery of cod stocks, but Dr. Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax disagrees. He said, “Before humans started industrial fishing, there were large populations of both seals and cod. Clearly, they can co-exist perfectly well….It appears to me that politicians are playing into this largely irrational hatred of seals to make it look like they are doing something.”
Research has not proven how a seal cull could be beneficial. "All scientific efforts to find an effect of seal predation on Canadian groundfish stocks have failed to show any impact. Overfishing remains the only scientifically demonstrated conservation problem related to fish stock collapse." From a petition signed by 97 scientists from 15 countries at the 11th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Dec.1995

Grey Seal

The suggestion of a grey cull was initially put forth in 2009. According to Dr. Boris Worm, a Dalhousie University biology professor, “It was something that was announced before the science was heard, and then a meeting was convened to produce the science to support that decision.”
The only way to determine if there is an increase in cod stocks after a cull would be to use a control group, but in the case of the proposed grey seal cull, there is only one population so there would be no way to know if a cull did assist in the recovery of the cod.
The cod have numerous predators and many believe seals eat more of the cod’s predators than they do cod. Seals are part of a complex ecosystem and a seal cull could have unexpected or even dire consequences.
Global warming is also a major threat to Canada’s seal population. Some seal pups drown at birth because of the lack of ice and the frequent early breakup of ice causes mothers and pups to be separated before pups are weaned. As the ice pack decreases, so will the seal population.
It is wonderful to see the global community taking a stance against the Canadian seal hunt. As we look forward to 2012, there isn’t a valid reason for the barbaric slaughter to continue. However, even after the demand for seal products has ceased, seals, and all life in the oceans will continue to be threatened by overfishing and climate change.
It is unfortunate that people are not better stewards of the oceans. Instead of blaming the seals for imbalances and the decline of fish stocks, man should look in mirror to see the true culprit in the diminishment of biodiversity.
For the Oceans,
Janice Oceans (on Facebook)
Janice_Oceans (on Twitter)

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